The Untouchables (1987 USA)

“Surprise is half the battle, Mr Ness.” “Many things are half the battle…losing is half the battle!” Thank you Netflix for jogging my memory by adding this to your schedule. OK, my boot-licking to the corporate monster over, “The Untouchables” is one the most complete films of the 1980’s and one of the highlights of Brian De Palma’s quirky career. This is an Untouchable classic. It has a great ensemble cast, the 1930’s period re-enactment is excellent, the magical music by Ennio Morricone is top hole. If you didn’t see it because you weren’t born/on drugs/in jail in ’87, you must see it now. And yes, it is pretty corny at times.

1930. Chicago. During the Prohibition Al Capone (Robert De Niro) is flying high, making a lot of money with the bootleg of vast amounts of alcohol and of course the law is on his side (buying judges and corrupt officials everywhere). If you’re against Capone get ready to run because he’s implacable and kills those who betray him even bashing with a baseball bat the head of a colleague who failed in his duties. It’s also the time of Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) an honest man Treasury Agent and he’s in charge of putting Capone behind bars. Capone is untouchable, dishonest and has the most dangerous crew on his side. Does Ness have a chance? This is Kevin Costner. Of course he has. He has three good souls on his side and things can be very different and Chicago might be another good place to live again.

Among Ness’s companions includes Malone (Sean Connery), an old and street smart Irish cop who’s up for anything, sometimes following rules and other times creating his own rules; Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) an accountant that wants to arrest Capone for not paying his taxes; and Stone (Andy Garcia) the best shooter in the police force. These are The Untouchables and with them there is nothing they cannot solve. No one can buy them, and those who are at the wrong side of the law are going to be killed or arrested. Writer David Mamet opted for not writing the real story of the events or even make a film version of the series of the 1950’s. Instead he opted for an original work about four simple guys fighting against injustice and facing mortal threats. Its very simple morality tale that some will view as cheesy and old hat. But Mamet gives us some great dialogue to compensate for this.

And to tell a story like that in the 1980’s was a complete risk of failing at the box-office if one considers that the commercial successes back then were muscular heroes like Rambo. Sean Connery proved to be an actor more talented than he is usually given credit for, earning an Oscar in the following year. De Palma is known for his technique on editing, planning movies almost like Hitchcock (his idol) and here everything is done marvelously well. In the most climatic moment of the movie (the Stairway Shootout) he made a fantastic homage to “The Battleship Potemkin”. Here Stone and Ness are in a shooting duel against Capone’s thugs, and in the middle of this carnage are Capone’s accountant (Jack Kehoe), a woman and her baby – in a baby carriage, that’s running out of control down the stairs. Unforgettable!

And, of course, Ennio Morricone’s memorable musical themes. He was robbed an Oscar and a Golden Globe in 1988. He does a tremendous job here, setting the music in the cold and dark Chicago atmosphere, and he knows how to use the variation of instruments in a same theme for different scenes (For instance: the “Death theme” is used twice, two different scenes, but if you notice Ennio makes little changes with instruments). It’s a mystery to me that there are people who simply just don’t care about this film, calling it superficial, or saying that everything was lame. I disagree. I rarely get tired of watching such a great cast performing incredibly well. It has a strong story and it’s one of the best films from Brian De Palma, along with “Carrie”, “Scarface”, “Body Double” and “Dressed To Kill. Its a must see.


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